The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Spaying an older dog. Should you?

A reader wonders if she should have her eight year old bitch neutered. Tony Buckwell advises in Shooting Times.

old Labrador

Q: What is your advice on spaying an older dog? I am unsure of what to do.

I have an eight-year-old bitch I was a bit concerned about because she started being a bit slow with her food. This was unlike her so I took her to the vet, who diagnosed a phantom pregnancy.

The vet advised that I had her neutered but I’m holding off because of her age. I don’t know how she’ll cope with it. What’s your opinion?

Spaying an older dog

A: Vets frequently see problems starting to develop in bitches as they get older.

Diseases affecting the ovaries, uterus, vagina and mammary glands develop due to the effect of female hormones, principally oestrogen and progesterone, on the body over the years. Take away these hormones and the problems do not occur. Neutering your bitch will stop her getting pregnant and prevent her suffering from false pregnancies, pyometra or vaginal prolapse. One study found that spayed bitches live, on average, 12 to 18 months longer than entire ones.

So your vet has made a useful suggestion.

All about phantom pregnancies

  • False, phantom or pseudopregnancy can affect bitches of any age. (For advice on looking after a working dog in pregnancy read here.)
  • The signs of false pregnancy generally start four to nine weeks after a season.
  • In most cases the mammary glands become enlarged and milk can be expressed.
  • The dog’s behaviour can change; they can become clingy with their owners, possessive over toys, and generally unsettled.
  • Dogs may start nesting
  • Some dogs will go off their food.

Spaying does not change behaviour

Age, in itself, should not prevent a bitch from being spayed. Normally the decision to operate is influenced more by the condition of the individual dog. Some bitches seem to age more quickly, while others remain fit and healthy until well into old age. Spaying a bitch will not change her behaviour, though it does reduce her metabolic rate. This means that she will need at least 10 to 20 per cent less food to prevent weight gain. Controlling excess weight in spayed bitches can be problematic but there are now several low-calorie dog foods on the market. Bodyweight is more effectively controlled by reducing the amount of food given several weeks before the bitch is spayed.